I learned of the death of a high school friend yesterday. I discovered how, even for someone you have not seen in decades, some friends carve out a little space in your memories and nestle into your heart in deep ways. His obituary reflects the person I knew and remember, celebrating his soul and soulful qualities. It also gives the smallest glimpse into the challenges he faced in his life. Another high school friend described him as “that boy”. He was “that boy”. I wish his path could have been easier, but it was his path.
Last night, as I paused Shadow and Bone on Netflix and stood on the landing of my stairs, looking out the window onto my street, I felt wistful. I longed for the days of being a parent of teenage boys when our house was always full. Full of life. Full of energy. (Also full of challenges but those are stories for other days.) There were days I had no idea how many kids, or who, were in my house. Grocery bills were staggering. I cooked for them. They learned to cook. They all helped out when asked. They supported each other through a lot of challenges and most of them are still friends, a decade or so later.
Life ambles along. It brings us all that shows up in the soul journey. We don’t always stay connected in the world, but there are threads of connection that never go away. There are people nestled in the vastness of ourhearts who have carved their names into our memories in ways they will never disappear, even when our paths no longer cross, even when death intervenes.
Just when we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, darkness and despair have descended yet again. So many metaphors come to mind: the wind taken out of our sails, it is darkest before the dawn, the darkest hour, dark night of the soul.
Just as vaccines are rolling out and hope is on the horizon for many of us, variations of Coronavirus are showing up around the world. India is making headlines for the devastation being wreaked by the virus and the inadequate ability to respond which is leaving people dying, not just in hospitals but in the streets. Other countries are also struggling, even while others are enjoying success like Australia and New Zealand. The tide in the US has changed dramatically with clear leadership and the dedication of resources to combatting spread and ramping up vaccinations, and they are not out of the woods yet.
Across Canada, cases are rising, hospitals are in chaos and frontline health care professionals are exhausted. In Nova Scotia, after being down to no or few cases for months, we are having the highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Last year, most of these cases were in long-term care and now they are the result of community spread. Locked down again just as plans were made for opening up.
Defiance of vaccines, mask wearing and social distancing competes with people advocating for as many precautionary measures as possible. Misinformation, both deliberate and uniformed, competes with science, medicine and public health guidelines based on sound research and evidence based results. Almost everyone I know personally is signing up for vaccines as fast as they become available.
It is easy to get lost in a sea of desolation. I am fortunate that my family is close by, we all take precautions and we do get to see each other, if not as often as we might like. My partner and I live in different countries and are separated by more than a border right now and have been for the majority of the pandemic. We are not young. These are precious years. My business was just beginning to return to some in-person work, which is sorely missed in my world.
The tides can turn fast, though. If you, like me, seem to be moving through quick sand to get up in the morning, begin your day, attend to your tasks, to find joy, we have to remember the light is at the end of the tunnel and, even if it is hard to see, it’s not as far off as it seems in the moment.
Here are 14 reminders of things to do to keep moving through the days, toward that light at the end of the tunnel:
Above all, be kindand compassionate to yourself. You are doing what you can. Things are getting done, even if slowly.
Be kind and compassionate towards others – family, friends, neighbours. Most of us are doing the best we can.
Reach out and connect with your family and friends – including new ones. Commiserate together. Laugh together.
Let yourself feel what you feel but try not to let it overwhelm you. Not easy some days and for some people not easy at all.
Grieve the losses. The people. The ability to be together. The freedom. All of it. There is so much of it. Acknowledging our grief and our sorrow helps us be still or keep moving or discover whatever it is we need to continue.
Look for things that make you laugh. We are allowed to laugh, even in the dark days. And laughter is good for the soul.
Get outside – walk, sit in a garden, in the woods, on the lawn, on your patio or balcony. Even just open a window. Breathe in fresh air.
Take care of your body. Hydrate yourself. Drink water. Lots of it. Eat as well as you can in these days. I live alone. Getting motivated to make good food is not always easy but I do what I can on the days I can. Exercise. Breathe.
Meditate, if it is in your practice. At a minimum, sit quietly with a cup of coffee or tea and invite yourself to be present to that moment.
Take a break from the news (says she who listens to CBC radio a ton).
Listen to music that lifts you up.
Use social media to lift your spirits – not drag you down. Find the groups that inspire, the people who provide hope. Spread those messages as often and as far as you can.
I woke up recently with 1 Corinthians 13 in my mind, likely prompted by a compulsion I feel to compile my writing on love into a little book about love – Embracing Love: An Openhearted Practice. A common reading at weddings, this verse holds a promise and a commitment.
Yet, too often, it is just words. Words read but not taken in, not lived. There is such power in these words that, if they were lived, there might be more compassion and less harm, in us, our relationships and the world around us.
For many, the promises of love fade as life is lived. Too many hardships. Too many hurts. Too much despair. Too much trauma. Grudges held. Forgiveness demanded but not given or offered. Heartbreaks. Grief. We break. Our humanity breaks. We lose our way. We forget.
We forget that love is not sustained through a promise. Love needs to be a practice. Without the practice of love, the promise is meaningless. It feels like love fails, but maybe it is humanity failing love.
In his book, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah says, “Love is a creative act. When you love someone, you create a new world for them.” He was talking about his relationship with his mother. “My mother did that for me and with the progress I made and the things I learned, I came back and created a new world and new understanding for her.”
Imagine if we remembered we are love. Imagine if we emanated that love out to all those in our circles of love and beyond. Imagine if we took these words in – love is patient, love is kind; it does not envy or boast; it does not dishonour others – and brought them alive, let them live in and through us. It would change us. It would change the world around us.
Love would be a bold, courageous, radical, creative act.
Someone in my circles posted yesterday, asking if anyone else was having difficulty finding words to share in these times. The answer was a resounding yes from many of us. Last night, in my deep dream state, these words came to me: hope and despair.
I imagine these words were also relevant in that first Christmas as Mary and Joseph looked for a place to stay, to give birth to the baby Jesus. A side note: the fact that I am not a church goer was obvious when my two oldest were young, whispering to each other in front of the nativity scene, saying, “That baby has a bad name.” So, it is kind of ironic I find myself referencing that first Christmas, but it is 2020.
2020 has been a year with all the feels. Anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, delights, joy, love. Also, at points, the absence of feelings. Nothingness. Like the monochromatic days I wrote about earlier this year. Most of us have discovered we can move through it all. Some days are full of activity and outcomes. Some days, we just manage to get out of bed and have a cup of coffee. Some days, it is enough to know we are lovedand we love, no matter how imperfectly that might be.
While time has disappeared into a vortex and it is already Christmas Eve morning as I write this, we have not disappeared into that vortex. We are still here. While not everyone is still physically here with us, they are in our hearts. They are present whether we know it or not. For me, my father who died in January is a constant presence along with my mother who died in 2012. Regularly in my dreams. Likely inspiring this writing this morning. My father prayed to Mother Mary regularly. His statue of Her still has the unlikely place on a side table in my living room. A tribute to him and his faith in Her. Also possibly what caused me to think about that first Christmas morning as I woke today.
Tomorrow holds a promise. Not just tomorrow Christmas Day, which for some holds as much or more sorrow as joy, but for the many tomorrows that flow out of and through time. The promise we will still be here. The promise we will keep putting one foot in front of the other, literally and metaphorically. The promise that we will find the moments of peace in times of chaos and uncertainty. The promise that 2021 may hold more hope for us individually and collectively. My partner, Jerry, and I look to the coming year with a hopeful eye. We will grow. We will expand. We will rise above and prosper.
That is my 2020 Christmas wish for you – to rise above, to prosper, to hold your loved ones close in your heart if not physically in your hugs, to continue to find your way, to stay hopeful for tomorrow and all the tomorrows that follow. Sending love, peace, joy to each and every one of you, from my family to yours, from my home to yours. Merry Christmas.
2020! Christmas. Unlike any other I have experienced. Thanks to Coronavirus, the spread of it, illness and deaths because of it, precautions we take to reduce the spread and try to keep ourselves from contracting it – for ourselves and our loved ones. For everyone I know, this means smaller family bubbles for the holidays. And this makes me sad. Deeply, profoundly sad.
In 2011, I wrote this post describing Christmas as the season of amplification – of joy and of sorrow. It was the last Christmas my mother was alive – just barely, in long term care because of dementia. Emotions are always present in our lives if we have lived a minute. Every year of life this becomes more so as life’s experiences continue to accumulate.
Yet, we’ve been re-imagining our business during this time, opening new explorations and looking to the future. A vaccine is on the horizon. Next Christmas will look different again – hopefully in more ways we celebrate rather than mourn. In the meantime, my house is decorated. The tree is up. Jerry and I have a tentative plan to be together for a month post-Christmas.
I continue to reflect on my experience and how to move with and through the unusual holiday season. Here are 10 thoughts on how to do this.
You can cry if you want to. Encourage the tears. Let them flow. A good cry is healthy.
Laugh. You may not feel much like laughing, but laughter lifts the spirits, is good for the soul and is also healthy. And, it’s okay to laugh, give yourself permission, even as the world is different than it used to be. Watch funny movies, remember funny events, read books that make you laugh.
Connect. Bubble with the friends or family you have chosen to bubble with and spend time with them. Reach out to other people you care about. Text. Phone. Video call. Think particularly about the people you know are alone or suffering even more than you. There are some who have no one to bubble with.
Find or create comfort for yourself. This could be food, books, movies, music, traditions you allow yourself to carry out even if you are alone or have a smaller bubble. Decorating my tree with my small family bubble was one for me. Making gingerbread cookies to share will be another. Wrapping myself in a blanket to watch a movie or read a book brings comfort.
If you are buying Christmas gifts, shop local. It’s always a good idea and never more needed. Support local craftspeople, artists and shop owners. And make donations to people in more need than you.
Support a local restaurant that offers take out. Buy a meal for yourself and buy one for someone else if you can.
Allow yourself to revisit all the beautiful memories of other holidays. Sink into them and let them wash over you. Last year, my dad was not well. Jerry was here and we spent a lot of time in Lunenburg with him – including bringing Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and other family festivities to him over a 2 week period. We knew it might be his last. It was time well spent and makes me smile. There are so many more memories that make me smile – decades of them.
Take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing. 2020 is a time when anxiety, depression and emotional balance have been extraordinarily challenged. Then add in the stress that can come with the holidays. Reduce the things that cause you increased anxiety. This might be putting yourself on a social media diet. Or taking medication. Or deciding not to do a particular thing this year. Last year, for me, it was a decision not to do gingerbread houses – a treasured tradition for me for more than 2 decades. Not doing them this year either. Do or don’t do whatever else will contribute to your emotional and mental well-being.
Look to the future. Next Christmas, hopefully, we will not be talking small family bubbles but be able to gather in our extended family and friend networks again without fear of spreading a virus. 2021 brings a promise deeper than our usual New Years. We couldn’t have anticipated that 2020 would be the shit show it has been, but the future holds promise.
For those of you who have lost loved ones in the last year, I send love and compassion. To those on the front lines of battling coronavirus, I send gratitude. To everyone masking up, washing hands, trying to follow arrows in stores and keeping your contact with others minimal, thank you. We’ve got this. We just need a touch more patience and willingness to be disciplined in our behaviours.
I struggled with the Law of Attraction for a long time. I felt the guilt, shame, frustration and self-blame of not doing it right, not consistently enough guarding my thoughts to stay positive and focused on what I wanted, to not get stuck on the intentions but to let them go once created.
I knew it could be done, I just wasn’t good enough at it to do it repeatedly, to improve my financial situation, to create the business of my dreams. I was bound to continue hobbling along with limited success and fruitless hope, even as I practiced gratitude for the good things that showed up – my family, my partner, our business, my book, our book, our clients.
I first came across the Law of Attraction in 1998 after my first marriage fell apart and my job blew up. The shards of the glass walls fell down around me, resting in small piles at my feet making any step I took in any direction somewhat precarious. Five years ago I wrote about my Passive-Aggressive Relationship with the Law of Attraction. There is a lot of good advice in that post, things to do to keep yourself centered, grounded and focused that are not dependent on the Law of Attraction.
Now, though… now I am done with the Law of Attraction, its hope filled promises for the price of positive thoughts, a book or many, a course or two or a life coach. The premise is that you attract everything in your life to you – the good and the bad. You attract the bad things because of worry, fear, frustration. They arrive to teach you a life or spiritual lesson. And, if you attracted those things to you, you can also attract the equal and opposite good things, once you understand everything happens for a reason and you need to consistently think good thoughts. There are too many hard things too easily explained away through this premise that don’t quite add up.
When you come from a place of privilege, even if you are struggling and don’t quite see your privilege, it is practice of luxury. I don’t mean the luxury that comes from millions of dollars at your disposal – lord knows I’ve never had that. But I also haven’t had a real fear of living on the streets no matter how much financial stress I have endured.
I mean the luxury that many people not only can’t afford but don’t have access to. Like a roof over their heads. Or food. Or a safe place to land. Or adequate healthcare. Or any range of other things that can hobble daily existence.
The Law of Attraction premise begins to fall apart when we think about people living in poverty, or in violent situations, family breakdown or dealing with chronic or terminal illness or addictions. People who have been the victims of sexual or other violent assault, experience war conditions and the wanton destruction of life, property and nature. People who have experienced natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornados, earthquakes, erupting volcanos. Did people really attract those circumstances to themselves? And to all of those around them who were are also impacted.
Then we revert to “all things happen for a reason”, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”, “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.” Ways to try to explain or understand the level of hardship that has come our way.
And this Covid thing? We can make up a lot of stories about how and why “we” have “attracted” this pandemic to ourselves individually and collectively. “Life is showing us we need to slow down.” “The world is falling apart so we can put it back together better.” We use stories to try to make sense of the situation after the fact. These do not validate the Law of Attraction. They trap us into a line of thinking that is hard to escape from. I’m not aware of Law of Attraction stars or enthusiasts from countries and communities focused on survival.
When I wrote that post five years ago, I was still trying to sort out why I wasn’t manifesting the abundance in my life that was promised to me through the Law of Attraction. And I had “proof” that it worked because when the house I owned with my second husband went on the market as we were divorcing, it sold within 24 hours and the house I have now lived in for 10 years beckoned.
I knew I should be able to do it over and over, but I was failing far more often than I was succeeding. The Law of Attraction had me blaming myself for this failure because I obviously wasn’t guarding my thoughts clearly enough. I wasn’t doing it right. And even though the Law of Attraction would say things don’t necessarily manifest right away, it is a pattern of thought over time, what happens when that pattern of thought is interrupted by sadness, disorientation, hopelessness, fear, anxiety or frustration? Emotional states that are all naturally occurring and we all encounter them.
Looking back, I now understand what happened with the house. Regularly for months before we put it on the market, I would go for a walk or run, come back to the house, walk down the driveway, behind the house to the stream out back. I would sit on a rock in the middle of the little brook and meditate. Then I would walk back up the other side of the house. I was meditating on letting go and asking my spirit guides to make the house welcoming to the next owner. I was powerfully weaving a spell, reinforcing an enchantment for the house over and over again. That is why the house sold right away, not because I wished it so but because I was a conscious, active participant in the process. Over a sustained period of time, in consistent practice. And that is why other big things didn’t manifest. Not because my thinking was wrong but because I was not weaving enchantments. I was not in a regular practice or ritual that supported my intentions.
I get now that I get to want what I want, no matter what that is. I no longer believe in “magical thinking”, that all I have to do is visualize it, then release it and if I think about it right it will come into being, which is not to say I don’t believe in magic. I have stopped following Law of Attraction posts and advocates and I am living into both the hard stuff and thejoyful stuff as a conscious active participant in my life, feeling more grounded and more expansive in the journey. I am looking for coherence, so that my thoughts, my surroundings, my intentions and practices are all aligned, inquiring into how I can be my most powerful self, most consistently. It is part of embracing my identity, embracing my gifts, sludging through the hard moments and dancing through the joyful ones.
My father once commented on the passage of time. He said, “Minutes are like seconds, hours are like minutes, days are like hours, weeks are like days, months are like weeks.”
Seven months into this pandemic, I think about my father every day. I feel like I have greater insight into what his days were like as he lived them out alone in his house. Day after day, unremarkably the same.
Monochromatic days. There are colours and yet there are so many more that are missing.
Wake up. Feed the cats. Make coffee. Scroll through social media for longer than is wise, especially given the chaotic nature of these times. Have breakfast. Go for a walk. Shower. Fill in the day. Finish up the day. Have a glass of wine. Read. Feed the cats. Plan a trip to the grocery store. Make dinner. Have another glass of wine. Watch an episode or two of a favourite show. Give the cats treats. Go to bed. Rinse and repeat. Plug and play.
I am grateful for all of the things that are part of my plug and play. A day a week with my grandson. The great 2020 Painting Odyssey with multiple days of painting the rooms in my house. Work that includes zoom calls, writing, strategizing, monitoring the discussion boards of the online programs we are piloting. Visiting my granddaughter. Visits with my kids some days or a friend or two on other days.
And yet most days I wake up with sadness, sometimes grief. There is a sameness about the days. They lack adventure. They lack work with clients – how I miss that work right now. They lack planning for the next trip whether for work or pleasure. They lack the in-person connection with my sweetie who I haven’t been with since March.
There is a listlessness. Even as I bring new colour into every room of my house and marvel at the transformation, the endless march of days miss the full spectrum of colour. They are monochromatic. How is it already October? Time has been sucked into a vortex of repetitiveness, even with the plug and play.
I miss my life. I want it back. But, for the moment, I will go apply a second coat of paint to my bathroom – room/area #12, finally feeling like I have turned the corner of this painting odyssey with only 3 rooms left after this. When the painting is done, one less plug and play for my days. Pining for the days of full colour spectrums.
We didn’t always say “I love you” to each other, but in his latter years, when we did, with increasing frequency, dad would say, “I love you more.”
This remembrance came to me this week as surprisingly deep wells of grief have opened, hearing about the passing of another in the group of friends who boated together for decades. Seven months since my father passed.
Dad once said to me that in his family, growing up, these words were never spoken. I don’t know where or when he decided to say, “I love you more” but it would make me smile every single time he did.
I learned to love him in the same way – as unconditionally as I knew how. I have written that he was not the easiest person to be around at times. He could be grouchy. He had moments of feeling sorry for himself. He had his own moments of deep grief that I witnessed through listening. Just listening; witnessing. Holding space for him and his process. Not trying to make it better, explain it away, side with anyone. At times he focused more on who wasn’t coming around than who did come around. He yearned for the joy, happiness and fun of the past when everyone was younger and mortality seemed a long ways a way. A past that our family friend was part of.
Dad knew his mind. He knew what he wanted. I came to recognize his humour. How he lit up when he gently flirted with waitresses or other young women he came into contact with, as inappropriate as that may be in this day and age, and even though my mother was his one and only true love. How he used to tell everyone, “She’s not my girlfriend…. She’s my daughter.”
He cherished his independence even while at times he was lonely. In the last year or so of his life, his ability to get around became increasingly impaired. He had leg pains and he couldn’t breathe. He had difficulty getting up from a chair and walking up stairs. I always honoured his independence. I would adjust my pace of walking to his. I would carefully watch him as he struggled to go up a set of stairs or get out of his seat. I would not do for him what he wanted to do for himself, even when it was hard to watch.
Last summer, we were trying to get him qualified for home oxygen, paid for by the province. We went to the hospital for a test but his legs gave out before his oxygen could register at a qualifying level. We were told, when I asked, he could go back for a retest. It was his idea to do the stairs because they taxed him more than just walking. I will never forget the young technician’s ashen face as he emerged through the door of the stairwell with my panting father. If he wasn’t so young, I think having dad on the stairs may have given him a heart attack! It did the trick though. Dad qualified for home oxygen. Unfortunately, it was not the “cure” dad hoped it would be.
I miss him even as I feel his presence with me every day. He is often in my dreams. I “saw” his welcoming committee when he arrived on the other side. I “see” him welcoming the newly transitioned friends as the clans regroup. I feel the emptiness of what was and the fullness of what is. I allow my grief to leak through my eyes as I smile at the memory of, “I love you more.”
The next generation? My generation? Reluctant. Reluctant to occupy these spaces. Not a mantle willingly or joyfully embraced. A mantle passed on by necessity. By the advancement of time. Cycles of life. And death. Venerable, honourable, vacant spaces.
My mortality is calling to me. With some astonishment, I realize, I am in my third third.
I can look ahead. I can look ahead and see. Clear to the end. Is it another decade? Two? Maybe three? If I’m lucky? Or if I’m not?
Who am I now? Who do I want to be? What is it that is mine to do in this third third?
Life is a current. It has pulled me along. It has shaped me. Shaped my journey. I see the nuances. Fluctuations. Tributaries. Of this current. Sometimes meandering. Sometimes radical passage. Eddies and rapids that have been wake up calls. And decision points.
My home refresh project has brought me to the entryway of my house. I am having a surprisingly emotional experience as I prep the area for painting.
There are threads that have been woven from the third floor hallway, down a stairwell to the main floor, with the next stage down to the bottom stairwell to the front door. It is part of the magical energy I have been building in my home for years now.
These hallways and stairwells pass by rooms, some of which have already been refreshed, reordered and refocused with the remainder on the summer 2020 to-do list. As each room is taken apart, it is put back together, somewhat to significantly differently. The entire energy – and dare I say identity – of the house is shifting.
Doorways. Thresholds. Portals. Who and what passes through. Who and what is invited. Who and what is discouraged or even barred from passing through. Because it is my home and boundaries are important. Coherence is essential.
Doors opened and closed. Literally, figuratively and metaphorically.
Thresholds crossed daily with little thought about them. Other thresholds requiring intentionality.
Portals that open vast new worlds of transformation or that open the threshold between the visible and the invisible, known and unknown, seen and unseen worlds.
Practical magic. Being a conscious, active participant in my own life and my future. Allowing myself to want what I want without self-judgment, self-recrimination or self-censorship. Relying on my own moral authority and my ancestors, guides and guardians for guidance.
It’s been a full 10 years. I had planned to paint this year anyway. Started last summer with two rooms. With the disorientation and disruption of being grounded due to the Coronavirus, there is a different sense of urgency and compulsion attached to this refresh. To my sense of who I am. To how I want to engage life. My life. Now and in the future.
Many people have passed through my front door. I have passed through that door too many times to count. An abundance of experiences of the ins and outs of life, relationships, phases and stages. Ups and downs on the stairwells of my house and of life. Joy. Grief. Happiness. Disappointments. Struggle. Regrets. Yearning. Development. Spiritual growth. It is all here. Right in front of me. Behind me. Ahead of me.
Collectively, we are still in a period of not knowing. Not knowing what is next. Not knowing when it will be wise to travel. Not knowing when or if there will be a second wave. Not knowing what my business will look like or how I will support myself. Not knowing when I will be with my sweetie in person again. Not knowing what is ahead. Ready and not ready at the same time.
Living through grief, sorrow, regret and yearning. Some days pushing through inertia. Knowing reflection, connection, meditation, practices and ritual connect me to the vastness beyond myself in ways that are grounding, supportive and orienting to me. This changes my imaginings about what is possible. It opens me to love and LOVE. One more day. One more practice. One more dream. One more enchantment. One more action. One more coat of paint. One more phase of transformation.
What are the next doors that will open, thresholds I will cross or portals I will travel? Discovering as I go?
Who are you? Who are you really? Who do you aspire to be? How are you creating your life? How much thought have you given to these questions? For me, they are a guiding inquiry providing ample fodder for deep reflection.
I have been actively engaged in identity work for the last couple of years, becoming more of an active conscious participant in my own future, in creating my own destiny. I am doing this by becoming a magician (yes, you read that right) and living into being a powerful creator. Not a show magician full of dazzling tricks or someone who engages magical thinking, but a person who recognizes the power of combining deep spiritual work with practical mundane steps to advance a vision, intent or desire for my life. Learning how to do magic, be magic, live life magically.
I have found amazing teachers and tuned into a whole new world that has been waitingfor me for decades. A world that has attempted to reveal itself through my spiritual journey but which often left me wondering what to do with what was revealed, with the spirit guides, guardians and supporters I knew to be available to me. Now I am learning how to build relationship, how to open the lines of communication more fully. And, I feel like my father through his death has opened a portal of greater access. Through this work, I am learning much more about identity, about myidentity.
I recognize over the decades I have inhabited several identities – some more fully than others and none with the degree of consciousness I am bringing to this next evolution of who I am, who I am growing into.
Like everyone, I have a number of roles that shape who I am and contribute to my identity. Mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, lover, partner, friend, neighbour, consultant, trainer, teacher, coach, author, co-author, traveler, cat parent, caregiver. And these many roles are not the consummate of my identity.
My identity is more than my roles. Although all of my parents and grandparents are now departed, I am still a daughter and a granddaughter but these roles are different now. Since my father’s death, I am no longer a caregiver for my elder(s), which was a consuming role. I am no longer part of the sandwich generation – sandwiched between parents and children. I am now the elder in my family.
Since putting a period on 70 Dufferin Street, clearing out my parent’s house where my dad had lived for 45 years, a house my brother and I also grew up in, I have turned my attention to my own house of 10 years. There are a few items from my parents’ house that have made their way into my house and they needed to be made way for. They have sparked a transformative effort in my living space. And, it’s more than that.
In the painting of each room in my house, a transformation takes place. When I painted my bedroom, I took everything out of my closets and cupboards and only about a third of things went back. Clothes that had been in the closet for a decade, brought here from another life, another identity, were shed. A wedding dress and shoes. Clothes given to me by other people that I did not wear but had a hard time letting go of. Gowns I would never wear again. Clothes I bought because I liked them but every time I put them on I took them off again because I didn’t like how they looked. Shoes I had barely worn. All gone. And as I caught sight of a few sweaters that had been much loved and enjoyed a few years ago, I recognized that the clothes we wear are all part of the identity we inhabit at any given time and it is hard to fully inhabit a new and evolving identity when the ghosts of past identities clutter our spaces.
I am on a mission. As I turn my attention to the next space(s) in my house, things are removed, new order is brought in. By summer’s end, all of my living spaces will have been refreshed and transformed. My sense of my identity will continue to deepen and I will walk in the world with more confidence and hopefully more grace than in all of the decades before.
For those curious about who I have been learning from, my main teacher is Fabeku Fatumise. Through him I have discovered Dan Carroll and chaos magic, Jason Miller and Aidan Wachter among others. Buy any of their books and prepare to immerse yourself in a new journey. For me, it is a healing journey full of new awareness. It is a journey that has kept me sane through difficult times and it offers me practical things to do and focus on in times when it feels like there is little that can be done. And, as I said at the beginning, it has given me practices that enable me to be an active conscious participant in my own life.
I moved into my house in Bedford, Nova Scotia 10 years ago. A decade. 2010 to 2020. I realized it is the longest I have ever lived in one home in my entire life. It’s been a decade full of life and death, transition, rebirth, renewal, magic, evolution, transformation and increasing coherence. There is a lot to reflect on and a lot to celebrate.
My boys were 7, 17 and 19 when we moved. They have, for various times and for varying lengths of time, lived with me in this house. Now the older two are married and one is a father. They have lovely families and all of them (sons and daughters-in-law) are on good career paths. The youngest is forging a path which is his to walk, the outcome of which is not clear yet nor will be for some time. But he and his path, like with the others, is held in love and light.
I am privileged to be able to spend a lot of time with my grandson developing a relationship that I dream will be close and connected over the rest of my life. I wait with delight the arrival of his sister with the same anticipation of relationship.
My Partner and Work
Not only were there literal births of children, there was the birth of an unexpected relationship and new business in my life. When Jerry Nagel and I met just before I moved into this house, a deep friendship immediately blossomed. We hosted together in powerful work – each better because of the other – and we created a new business, Worldview Intelligence, born out of what we could see and discover together which we are still building. We also birthed a book about our work: Building Trust and Relationship at the Speed of Change.
Our deep friendship became intimate relationship although “unconventional” in that we live in two different countries. The relationship has not been without its challenges as we each work to step out of habitual and dysfunctional patterns created in previous relationships. We do this because we each recognize we are building on a foundation of mutual love, respect and strength. Because of this relationship and our work I have traveled more in the last decade than ever before. Now we face a new challenge with travel restrictions and the not knowing of when we will be able to be together in person, taking it one day at a time. We know the foundation of our relationship will carry us through.
The Loss of My Parents
While in this house I lost both my mother in 2012 and this year my father. I feel my mother’s loss more keenly since my father departed. While my father was alive and a significant presence in my life it partially filled the void left both by mother’s dementia and entry into long-term care and her subsequent death.
Now there is a nothing. But it is not really nothing. It is more of a quiet in which memories leap into view through photographs and through the bits and pieces of my parents’ belongings that have found a new home in mine.
A Slowing Down and Chaos
In this time of the great slowing down caused by the responses to Covid-19 and the great disturbances and chaos created by one more Black death too many and protests co-opted in the US by the Boogaloo Bois intent on violence and creating a civil war, other things are amplified.
During this time I cleared out and sold my parents’ home. 45 years of living in one place. Hardly anything ever thrown out. A 3 story house and full garage. Of memories. Of identity. Of stuff. Three truckloads of stuff not useful to anyone taken away. A houseful of furniture given away. Boxes of kitchen and other small items given away. Tools and machinery accumulated over a lifetime sold or given away as gifts. A house washed down, ready for a new owner, new memories, new identity.
Chaos, Order and Flow
Chaos in my house as it stores the things waiting for their new home – either with my brother or through a charity. Chaos which is being turned into order. And newness.
This house and land were waiting for me when my youngest son’s father and I finally sold the house we had lived in together to move into separate homes. It was a time of flow when things moved quickly – very similar to the sale of my father’s house. Once we put our old house on the market it sold remarkably within 24 hours. My house had just gone on the market. Within 3 weeks I was here.
Other than building an office in what had been a very large storage space on the first floor, nothing much has changed. The colour schemes were perfect in the moment. The house is big enough to accommodate everyone here at the same time and small enough that I don’t rattle around in it when it is just me and the cats. The cats are new-ish too. We arrived in the house with two older cats. They are buried in the back yard. The “new” cats have made it their home these last five years with their unique personalities.
My House Demanding a Refresh
Last year, something started to stir. The kitchen and the main living room seemed to be calling out to be painted. And you know once you start….. This year, the rest of the house is calling out to be painted. And I am on a mission, putting in 8, 9 and 10 hour days painting. I have the summer to complete the mission since it appears I may not be traveling anywhere. Hallways, stairwells and 9 rooms to be refreshed. The house is demanding a reboot. It may sound strange to describe it this way, but it is how it feels to me.
Deepening Spiritual Journey
The last decade has invited a deepening of my spiritual journey. For anyone who has read Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, you know how my spiritual journey has been guided in ways I could not have anticipated. In the 2000’s this journey began with developing a much greater sense of my guardians, guides and allies and still left me with a dissatisfaction and unrest of not quite knowing what to do with that information. (By the way, I will be publishing a follow up to my memoir later this year. It will be more of a how to guide of spiritual journey and practice.)
In the mid 2010’s the answer showed up. I found a teacher and a deep community of practitioners and learners of “practical magic”, divination and enchantments. I heard clear yeses in my animal knowing to step into the offerings that were available. And, that has made all the difference.
I have learned how to be in relationship with spirit in a myriad of ways – through divination, prayers, offerings, talismans, blessing work and more. It feels to me that my father’s death has opened a wider portal to the world of spirit and a closer connection to the allies, guides and guardians who support me and my loved ones. I walk in a different space now than before he died. I have artefacts from his house that strengthen that connection including his rosary and a statue of the Mother Mary who he felt a deep connection to. I feel his presence on a daily basis. I know he – and my mother and other ancestors – are actively watching out for me and my family and working on our behalf. It brings me joy and delight, even as I miss him on the physical plane.
Shifting Identity and Relationships
I have been shifting my sense of identity. I am learning to acknowledge that I am a powerful creator. I am changing my relationship with money, work and power. Through this network I have discovered a cadre of other teachers. In the times when it seems there is nothing I can do to change the state of the world – like now – I can turn to ritual, practice and meditation to transport myself to a different place to continue to imagine the future that is shaped by my conscious participation in it.
We talk a lot about coherence in these spaces – being coherent with what you want in your life, being internally and externally coherent. With each new level of coherence it is like there is a levelling-up in identity, in confidence and in walking in the world, sensing the sentience in everything.
So when I say the house is demanding a refresh, it is completely consistent with a levelling-up of my identity. It is part of the external coherence and it is bringing order to my spaces and a new kind of order to my life. Before the walls are painted they are covered in symbols representing what I want to draw into my life and my home. There is power in the symbols and you can feel it in the house. I am focused and I get more done that I want to do even as the world has slowed down. Even as the world has turned to greater chaotic upheaval than I ever expected to see in my lifetime.
I would not have wished this time on me or the world I live in. However, since I’m here, I’m grateful for the practice of magic, ritual and deepening relationships with Allies. I am soothed by family connections. And, putting energy into transforming my house through painting highlights the other transformations which are changing the ground I walk on.
Here is to the next decade. To more births, inevitably more deaths and to an enduring spiritual journey that gives power and agency to my life.
The children. All the children, little and big. Their deaths are not isolated events. They are endemic to a culture of abuse, power, greed and corruption. In a monolithic church that gained momentum through the ages using these patterns that have been enduring and defining characteristics of its culture. Abuse, greed, power and corruption was going on well before Residential Schools, during the era of Residential Schools and continues post Residential Schools.
The sudden explosion of sexual abuse charges against Catholic Priests, Bishops and more in the late 80s and the 90s did not bring down this monstrosity of an institution. Charges that emerged all around the world. Will finally looking for, finding and counting the bodies of potentially thousands of children across this country do it?
In My Lifetime – Yours Too
I am almost 60 years old. I was raised as a Catholic. I was the first alter girl in my small church. I was pretty proud of that at the time and also oblivious to the power structures. I taught Sunday School when I was in high school. My father was French Canadian Roman Catholic. My mother’s mother was Irish Catholic (via Newfoundland). My grandfather changed religions for my grandmother but he was not opposed to skipping mass for a good cause, like sleeping on the couch Christmas Eve to stay with the grandkids while the rest of the family went to midnight mass.
I grew up in a small town in Nova Scotia. Sheltered from most of the abominations of the world. While I was growing up in all innocence, children my age – children – my age – were still being forcibly removed from their homes, their parents and families, their communities, their cultures, their support systems. They were imprisoned in facilities claiming to be schools, sanctioned by the Canadian government and run by Catholic institutions, whose sole purpose was to “kill the Indian”, even as that meant killing the child, the human being.
These professed ambassadors of God are among the most heinous, villainous people. They have no humanity. What person sees a newborn baby and throws it into an incinerator? What person professes to love God but abuses children, starves them, lets them die of starvation and other illnesses? What person sees evil in a child – many children – and somehow believes they are justified in their actions of capital punishment and worse? Except to hide their crimes.
No Person is Less Than
What society turns a blind eye to what is right there to see and then blames the traumatized people – the people we traumatized – for the ills that befall them – the inability to parent, not knowing how to be in relationship, turning to addictions because they are hollowed out cores of who they are as a person and who they are as a people, disconnected from their roots, their language, their own humanity? What person with any humanity can find any justification in what happened, the crimes that were committed? What kind of person still tries to hide the truth, still tries to believe there was good happening in those buildings?
There was no good in those “schools”. There was no humanity. There was no Christianity. There were horrors, evils, punishments, fear, isolation. There was physical, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse. Many people sought to hide those stories, including the Canadian Government, silencing anyone, like Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, who dared to try to tell the truth. Many others just looked away, unwilling to believe this was possible, denying First Nations peoples their voices.
From its roots, Christianity has wrought harm in this world, running roughshod over other practices like paganism, taking over holidays to take root in cultures and banning practices they deemed un-Christian. Birthing the patriarchy, violating women and making women subject to men. Destructive patriarchal patterns that societies have not yet extricated ourselves from. Why were Catholic priests not allowed to marry? Because of greed. Back in the days of the European aristocracy, a son offered to the church also brought some portion of an inheritance that would go to the Church because the Priest was not married. The Church filled its coffers off the backs of the poor and built beautiful, elaborate cathedrals.
What Compassion and Humility is Needed Now?
What compassion and humility is needed now to not block the way of full exposure, the full truth? Our nation should be screaming for investigations, for arrests, for every conceivable record to be handed over. Some of the people who committed these atrocities are still alive. Apologies are needed, sure. But they are hollow words without commitment to systemic change and to what it takes to heal the harms done.
I don’t know that any of my ancestors were directly involved in these systems of oppression and harm. I long ago stopped being a Catholic – a FARC as a friend of mine said – Fallen Away Roman Catholic. But I would be remiss if I did not bear witness. If I did not clamour for justice. If I did not create the space for these stories to be shared. If I did not let myself be horrified while not making any excuses for myself, the heritage I spring from or the society I live in. There are no excuses. Stop making them. Do the right thing. We can no longer look away because it is inconvenient to look directly at the horrifying harm that we, our ancestors, and our institutions have done.
How the Catholic Church continues to be a seemingly untouchable monstrous global organization is beyond me. When the stories about the abuse of young boys by priests began to break and we learned that priests were shifted from one parish to another, moving the problem from one community to another where these same priests continued to perpetrate harm on innocent youth, to supposedly protect the reputation of the Church, it was not enough to bring down the institution. It happened by and in full view of decision makers and high-ranking authority figures within the Church hierarchy. And in happened in full view of the community with hushed whispers and the inability to confront power.
Don’t Look Away
The truth is there for all of us to see. My parents would be mortified, heartbroken and confused. And none of that would make up for the pain and destruction wrought by the Church since it was conceived all those centuries ago.
What can we do now? Add your voice for justice. Research who to contribute to. Learn about Truth and Reconciliation. Question every assumption and judgment you have ever carried about the First Nations people of our country. The fact they have and are surviving despite the extent of harm and destruction wrought upon them is nothing short of a miracle. That they were deemed less than human, by others claiming superiority is exactly the abuse, power, greed, and corruption that infuses the culture and systems of the Church, government and even our communities.
The Children’s Voices are Rising
They may have tried to take away the language of the children. The voice of the children may have gone silent for a while, but a chorus of voices is rising up now. They are creating the space for the voice of the living and the dead to finally be heard, acknowledged, seen by more and more people. We can no longer look away. The truth demands to be known.
One year ago today I got the call from a resident at the hospital saying that dad had had a restless night, his oxygen was low, they had moved him to a private room and I should get there as soon as possible. I notified my children, my brother and my partner. I got in the car and the tears streamed down my face the whole drive to the hospital. This was the moment we had anticipated, literally for years. I have written before that dad tiptoed up to the edge of death many times, looked over, shook his head and said, “No, not yet.”
This time, there was no going back. He (and I) could not envision how he was going to continue to live at home with any semblance of satisfaction. He couldn’t go to his workshop in the garage. He couldn’t go down the stairs to where he worked on his Bluefin Model. He had so many health issues over the decades. His pacemaker and many medications were keeping him alive as long as his will to live prevailed.
It’s been a strange year. The year of the pandemic and shut down where time disappeared in a vortex. I carry the memory of clearing out his house during the months of March and April, of feeling that his guidance was in every part of what happened. The stories of people and connections that have carried on beyond those days, new life long relationships forged.
My dad comes to me in dreams every week, often several times a week. My mother often comes with him, which was not so much the case before he died. I think perhaps she was with him more often then and they are together now.
I feel his absence during the storms when we would check in with each other to see how things were and what was being taken care of. I could imagine how difficult this pandemic and US politics would be for him to comprehend. When I have traveled, I imagine his concerns for my travel and his relief when I am back home.
There are moments when grief overwhelms me, the tears flow just as they did that morning, a year ago, when I drove to the hospital. Not because I wish he was here now but because of the great, unexpected love that was between us. I was his person. The time I spent with him has been filled in other ways. His and mom’s presence are in my house along with the few items of theirs I have incorporated into my home. I carry them everywhere in heart and soul.
This morning, I lit dad’s candle in front of Mother Mary with a candle and matches from his house. I lit another candle for my mom. I put out coffee with Bailley’s in cups from dad’s house for them both and Jerry and I drank a toast to the two of them. In my mind’s eye, I see them as they might have been when they met in the late 50s – young, beautiful, slim, in love; wearing the clothes of the era. With spiked coffee and mom smoking a cigarette. Dad was an avid smoker until he quit in the 70s to save his life. In my vision, he is not smoking even though it is from a time when he would have been smoking. My mother was a social smoker. She would have a cigarette with her coffee, when a friend dropped by for tea or with a drink, at a party. She pretty much quit when dad did but in this vision she is smoking a cigarette, laughing and joyful. Trust the symbols that appear.
Their impact on me and my life is indelibly imprinted on my heart and soul. I will forever cherish all my relationships in my lineage and it will always influence the relationships I want to nurture with my children, their partners and extended families, my own grandchildren and my partner.